In the first part of this article, we saw the possible uses of Beacon in typical retail stores. With the ubiquitous nature of the technology (it is present in most of the iPhones [http://bit.ly/1frrk0o] & applications are being developed for android platform also [http://bit.ly/1s1sExs]), beacons won’t be found only in retail outlets. It is imperative that such an impressive & energy efficient technology would be used in many other sectors. To name a few of them – security applications, events, conferences, home automation etc.
In the security landscape, beacons could be found in applications similar to RFID tags, with the ability to do many more things. You could create a geofence, tag valuable items in an area & keep on continuously polling them with the help of beacons (this is very similar to other proximity sensors, except beacons have a much larger range & bidirectional communicational ability). Whenever that item is taken outside the geofence, we can set a certain steps of actions to be taken. The other (inverse) variant of this application is the ability to set restricted areas. You can set triggers/alarms when an item enters a pre-set restricted area. One other application of geofencing might be to disseminate information only to devices/people located in a particular area.
This ability to send the information selectively based on micro-locations of recipients opens up yet another domain – use of beacons at exhibitions, events, conferences etc. Now when you stand in front of a particular stall, you’ll receive information pertaining to the products & services of only that exhibition stall. Similarly, whenever a notification is to be sent to a group of people present in a particular area of an event (Ex. The attendees in a particular conference room could be sent notifications relevant to the ongoing session in that particular zone/area), beacons could be the way to go. Also, beacons provide the unique ability to have peer-to-peer communications of like-minded people. For example, at a tech conference, you can identify the people having similar prime interest as you (e.g. wireless technologies) & meet them to have a personal dialog with them. It would be of a great help in cutting through the crowd at such events/conferences & converse with people with whom you actually want to exchange ideas. The ability of beacons to provide a context would give unparalleled levels of engagement & greatly efficient user experiences.
Deployment of beacons may look tedious to marketers, but they stand to gain great advantages from them. For retailers at least, there will not be any major changes in their business processes. The technology could very well complement their existing marketing communication framework. Even so, they can gain following benefits from beacon deployment: 1. Granular Trends & Preferences: With beacons, buying/behavioral trends & preferences would be available in such a great variety & granularity that it would give an almost complete picture of the customer’s physical behavior within the retailer’s premises. For example, retailer can get the data about the products searched, time spent in various sections of the outlet, number & frequency of visits to the outlet etc. With proper analysis of this data, retailers would be able to draw trends & judge preferences like they’ve never done before. 2. With such near complete profiles of their customers, it would be possible for retailers to take informed decisions on various value added services. Retailers would be able to fine tune their offerings to the actual behavior of customers, not the needs perceived through the surveys. 3. Campaigning would also become easy for retailers as they will be able to send instantaneous offers to the shoppers present in the outlets. The ROI on beacon investment is looking quite optimistic.
However, for all above possibilities to become a feasible solution, many pieces of the beacon jigsaw have to fall into place. Platforms for beacons are yet to flourish & there is great need for their growth. These platforms are going to act as drivers for the adoption of this technology. Many retailers would not want to develop their own platforms as it involves a huge amount of work & a great deal of risk. Furthermore, as with any technology, a fair amount of resistance is to be expected from the customers. Beacon applications may seem quite intrusive on the surface & customers may have privacy concerns. Also, something needs to done about the auto-activation of beacon feature in the mobile devices. Customers cannot be expected to turn on beacon every time they are in the vicinity. Inversely, asking the user to keep their beacon signal always on may make the users prone to security issues.
All things considered, beacon technology is definitely an awesome development in the customer engagement & location-based targeting domain. Sure it’s still in the nascent stage, but it is definitely heading towards becoming a great addition to one’s communication repertoire. Beacon industry is still taking shape, and Apple Inc. seems to have taken a lead, but beacon (Bluetooth 4.0) inclusion in android is rapidly gaining ground & that is bound to make the market fiercely competitive. However, the question, ‘Will Beacons become the guiding lights of customer engagement?’ remains unanswered for now.